Cane Ridge Seniors

Cane Ridge Seniors Earn Places in Top Colleges with Help from GEAR UP, LEDA Programs
Posted on 05/16/2024
Two Cane Ridge seniors


Two Cane Ridge students


Anne Phetmany and Kena Biru are two of Cane Ridge High School’s best and brightest in the Class of 2024, with similar stories of achieving success.

Both scholars, who started their high school careers virtually during the COVID pandemic in 2020, are proud to be on the verge of becoming first-generation college students in a few short months. They credit their families and programs like GEAR UP, which Amanda Dardy leads at Cane Ridge, with helping them navigate the college and career application process.

“My mom’s encouragement to pursue postsecondary education has helped me, because she did not attend,” Kena said. “She is my hero and my role model.” 

Applying for college can be overwhelming for both students and families. However, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Nashville, the federally funded college and career readiness initiative designed to overcome scholarship, college and career application obstacles, is readily available to students in seven MNPS high schools.

Kena and Anne were huge beneficiaries of GEAR UP’s approach. As they began to explore various scholarships and college application options, they found the process “daunting and stressful” and “chaotic.” Thanks to Dardy’s support and her scholarship page for students, the students had a change of perspective.

“She was a rock throughout this college process,” Anne said of Dardy’s influence.

“She never runs out of positivity,” Kena explained. “She’s like my school mom, she’s always pushing me to do better.”

Anne, who is Cane Ridge’s salutatorian and took five dual enrollment classes at Nashville State Community College, will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall to study medicine, health and society, with a minor in business. She said Dardy, who won the College and Career Readiness Pillar Partner Award at the MNPS Family and Community Partnerships Awards on Monday, and GEAR UP made a big difference in her experience of the college application process.

“I would have been more stressed if it had not been for programs like LEDA and GEAR UP supporting us and providing that information about how to apply to colleges, what the process was like and navigating through the little loopholes."

One School, Two Top Scholars

LEDA, short for Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to diversifying the national leadership pipeline by helping high-achieving students from under-resourced backgrounds gain admission to the nation's most selective colleges and supporting their success at these institutions.

Kena and Anne, two self-proclaimed perfectionists, were two of the nation’s top 100 students selected to participate in Cohort 19 of the highly competitive LEDA Scholars Institute at Princeton University last summer.

“It has been several years since LEDA has had students from Tennessee, and the fact that last year two of the scholars came from the same high school is really impressive!” Dardy said.

Kena, who plans to major in public health and has been offered the full-ride Bell Tower Scholarship to attend Belmont University, said she started thinking about her college essays when she was in middle school. She said applying for the LEDA scholarship program was similar to applying to college but well worth the challenges. The process included meeting specific criteria, writing essays and sitting for interviews.

“It was great to come together with other scholars who had equally as high ambitions as we did,” she said.

The students credit their participation in GEAR UP and LEDA with their acceptances into multiple top colleges, including Vanderbilt, Belmont and Northwestern University, to name a few.

Anne and Kena, each of them the only child in their families, strongly recommend that up-and-coming high school students start the college application process early. Students should study the colleges they are interested in, advocate for themselves, get involved with school activities and not be afraid to seek help and support from teachers, counselors and facilitators in GEAR UP, LEDA and similar programs, they said.

Class of 2024,Seniors,GEAR UP